On the rise WNY mayor talks about becoming house speaker

After a series of losses in Albio Sires’ early political career, Sires – the current West New York mayor, assemblyman, and new speaker of the assembly – seems to be on a winning streak.

On Dec. 10, the state assembly’s 44-member Democratic Majority Caucus formally elected Sires as speaker for the 2002-2003 legislative session by acclamation, meaning he ran unopposed for the position. Sires will be officially sworn in as speaker on Jan. 8 when he will begin his two-year term.

The Democrats also voted by acclamation to appoint Assemblyman Joseph Roberts of Camden as majority leader, Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck as majority conference chair and Assemblyman Donald Tucker of Essex County as speaker pro-tempore.

With this appointment, Sires, who immigrated to this country from Cuba when he was 10, becomes the first Hispanic assembly speaker.

"It is quite an honor having come to this country not knowing the language, a product of the public school system, to have been chosen as speaker," said Sires.

McGreevey, who was quoted as planning to give 20 percent of the positions on his team to Hispanic members, placed Sires as Speaker and Rep. Robert Menendez as the head of his transition team.

"These are all meaningful positions, decision-making positions," said Sires. "That is better than any percent you can set."

Local gains

While Sires said that while this new position will not affect his position in West New York, he does feel that he will be able to benefit the town and Hudson County as speaker.

"I will be able to do a great deal of things for the state, for the county and certainly for the 33rd District, which includes West New York," said Sires. That district also represents Union City, Guttenberg, Hoboken, Weehawken, and part of Jersey City.

Sires said that he and Assemblyman Joseph Doria of Bayonne always talked about trying to bring money to Jersey City to fix up the Armory Building and make it what it was years ago when all the schools used the building for sports purposes.

"Right now it is in disrepair and hopefully we can do something in the future," said Sires.

Sires’ term as Mayor of West New York is up in 2003, and he said that he plans to run for another term.

The budget process

Depending on whose side you are on, the state is either looking at a $2 billion deficit or a $700 million deficit in its $23 billion budget.

Governor Donald DiFrancesco’s team just announced that the budget deficit is actually only $700 million, a number far less than Governor-elect Jim McGreevey announced, $2 billion.

"I think it is larger than that," said Sires about the $700 million estimate brought out by DiFrancesco. "I assume they are being very conservative. I don’t think that DiFrancesco wants to leave telling everyone that there is a $2 billion deficit."

As speaker, Sires now has the role of deciding what bills will come up before the floor to resolve the problem of the budget. Those bills decide whether there will be cuts, tax increases or freezes.

"This whole process is overwhelming," said Sires, who just completed a $46 million budget in West New York, a budget considerably lower than the budget he will be dealing with in the state. "It was overwhelming when I first got elected as mayor."

Sires, who is only beginning his second term as assemblyman, beat out two veteran assemblymen, Doria and Roberts, for the position. Both are among the top four Democratic caucus members in experience. However, Sires is confident that he is qualified for the job.

"I watched the [gubernatorial] election very closely this year," said Sires. "Both candidates spoke of their experience as mayors to prepare them for the position of governor. I have seven years experience as mayor and I am only asked to run the assembly."

Sires pointed out that that he is now the 12th most experienced member of the assembly. There are 19 new members on the assembly this year, 17 of which are Democrats. That leaves only four members of the Democratic assembly who were in the assembly when the Democrats last had the majority a decade ago.

"It is a learning process," said Sires. But like everything else, it takes time but you will grow into the position. A lot of people will be doing a lot of learning."

Sires added that the most important part of his new job is being able to work with people.

"The most important part of this job is the ability to work with everyone," said Sires, who said that he has that ability. "I worked with different mayors when we regionalized the fire departments and with the merger of the sewer plants."

Becoming a winner

Although Sires is in his seventh year as mayor of West New York and just took a big leap from freshman Assemblyman to Speaker of the Assembly, Sires was not always as successful in politics.

Sires’ first attempt at politics was when he supported Frank Cocuzza, a teacher who was running for a commissioner’s seat in West New York in 1979.

"I felt that he was bright and sensitive to the issues important to me in West New York," said Sires. "He lost."

However, Sires did not get involved in politics himself until Former Hudson County Freeholder Joe Seminovich asked him to run for the Board of Commissioners in West New York in 1983. And they lost.

Sires was then forced to leave the Democratic party when he looked to run against former West New York Mayor Anthony Defino.

"All the doors were closed to me in Hudson County," said Sires.

In 1985 Former Governor Thomas Kean asked Sires to be a part of his politics of inclusion and he ran for Congress as a Republican.

By 1995, when Sires ran for mayor in West New York, he was registered as an Independent. This time he won.

In 1999, he ran for state assembly as a Democrat and won and is now beginning his second term as an assemblyman.

Sires also taught Spanish and English as a second language at Memorial High School for 10 years before opening AM Title Insurance Company in Union in 1987.


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